This gluten-free winter vegetable gratin is a show-stopping side dish for holiday meals or any special occasion.
I had dinner with Mary of Chattavore the other night, and we were talking about how much we hate winter, even here in the Mid-South where we barely have one to speak of. She mentioned disliking the early sunsets, so I told her an optimistic tidbit that I learned online the other day: despite the fact that the winter solstice isn’t until December 21st, the earliest sunset of the year is often much sooner. In fact, here in Chattanooga, it’s today!
The sun set at 5:29 in Chattanooga today, and will set at about the same time tomorrow and the next day. After that, it will begin to set later and later. (The days will continue to get shorter because the sun will be rising later in the morning, but if you’re anything like me and Mary, that doesn’t bother you quite as much as the early nightfall.)
The winter solstice has always been a nice turning point for me in my thinking–almost like it’s the very first sign of spring. Even in Boston when the worst of winter doesn’t come until January, knowing that each day we were gaining minutes of daylight made me feel optimistic. Thanks to my new knowledge about the earliest sunset preceding the solstice by several weeks, I’m going to go ahead and start with all that positive thinking today!
As a bit of a tribute to winter, since it is sort of here and there are SOME good things about it, I made this winter vegetable gratin. It’s inspired by the vegetables I got in my winter CSA and the color palette of winter white, which seems to be the new word for cream, off-white, snow white, or perhaps a collection of all three.
I had a daikon radish, a beautiful head of cabbage, and two adorably alien-looking kohlrabi from my Big Sycamore Farm box, so I decided to see if a gratin would still be delicious without any potatoes in it.
The sauce for this gratin is adapted from Sean Brock’s cookbook Heritage, which I bought for myself in September for inspiration and light reading (I tend to read cookbooks cover to cover, like novels). It’s a gorgeous book, and it goes very much in depth about all kinds of well-loved Southern ingredients as well as many lesser-known ones. As soon as I get a coffee table, that book is going to be on it! And as soon as I save a little money, I’m going on a road trip to Nashville so I can eat at Husk.
Brock makes his gratin with potatoes, but I loved this winter vegetable gratin with my more eclectic vegetables. It’s the sauce that makes this dish really special. You basically cook sweet onions for a long time, but you don’t caramelize them–you just let them become meltingly tender over a slow fire with some butter. Then you blend them with a little heavy cream and salt until super smooth, and you already have something you’ll be tempted to eat by the spoonful. When a little sour cream is stirred in, it only gets better. The sauce blankets two different layers fresh vegetables–cabbage on the bottom and daikon and kohlrabi on top–and a little parmigiano reggiano is sprinkled on to finish.
I made several other changes to Brock’s recipe, mainly in the form of reducing almost everything, from the amount of salt to the amount of cheese to the cooking time for the onions. (I’d love to try his version as written, too, but have to admit that I wonder if the amount of salt is a mistake: the recipe in Heritage calls for two TABLESPOONS of kosher salt, and also contains large amounts of salty cheese.) Even with all these reductions, the gratin was transcendent and I’m so glad I tried blending cooked sweet onions into a sauce–I don’t think I ever would have thought to do that!
Doesn’t that parmesan on top remind you of snow? Here’s hoping that’s the only snow I see this year (or at least the only snow that sticks!).
I haven’t tried a dairy-free version of this winter vegetable gratin, but if you’re looking for something just as tasty that IS dairy free and Whole 30 compliant, check out this sweet potato and kale gratin. Either one of these gratins would be a perfect gluten free side dish at your holiday dinner!
- 5 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 2 pounds sweet onions (about 5 medium), peeled and thinly sliced*
- ½ cup heavy cream
- 1 teaspoon flaky sea salt, or to taste
- ⅔ cup sour cream
- Pinch of ground allspice
- ½ of a large head of green cabbage, cored and thinly sliced (5-6 cups)*
- 2 small kohlrabi, peeled and thinly sliced*
- 1 daikon radish, peeled and thinly sliced*
- ¼ cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano
- Heat the butter in a large saucepan over medium-high heat until it foams, and then add the onions and reduce the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring occasionally, for about an hour, until the onions are very soft and translucent, lowering the heat if they begin to brown.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F and grease a 9x13-inch glass baking dish with butter.
- Pour the cream into the saucepan with the onions, add the salt, and stir. Transfer the creamy onions to the bowl of a food processor or blender and process until silky smooth (2-3 minutes). Pour the onion cream back into the saucepan and set the heat to low. Add the sour cream and pinch of allspice, and stir until the sour cream is melted and incorporated into the sauce. Taste and adjust the seasonings if desired (and try not to just sit down with a bowl of that and call it dinner--it is good stuff!).
- Put the sliced cabbage in the baking dish and pour in about half the sauce. Stir to coat the cabbage with the sauce and spread it out into an even layer.
- Add the sliced kohlrabi and daikon to the pan with the remaining sauce and toss well to coat all of the slices. Transfer the vegetables and sauce to the pan and use a spatula to spread them out into a flat layer on top of the cabbage.
- Sprinkle on the parmigiano reggiano.
- Cover the dish with foil and bake for 30 minutes, then remove the foil and continue to bake for 15-20 more minutes, until the gratin is golden brown in spots and the vegetables are tender when pierced with a fork.
- Cool in the pan for ten minutes before serving. Enjoy hot, sliced into rectangles and taken out with a spatula or just scooped out with a big spoon.
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